Lift capacity reduced, hot desking banned, and multiple entry and exit points – these are some of the steps firms are being encouraged to take to protect workers who have to come into the office.
But the latest government guidance states that wearing a face covering in the office environment is optional and not required by law.
The vast majority of law firm staff continued to either work from home or be furloughed on the government’s job retention scheme, but prime minister Boris Johnson has now said that people who cannot work from home should be encouraged to come in.
For law firms that plan to open, that will require a number of practical changes to the workplace. These include:
- Review layouts and processes to allow people to work further apart, using floor tape to mark area two metres apart
- Arrange people to work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face
- Avoid the use of hot desks and the sharing of office equipment, and hold any necessary meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms
- Reduce maximum occupancy for lifts and provide hand sanitiser in each lift.
The guidance adds: 'If it is not possible to keep workstations two metres apart then businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate and if so take all mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.’
The government states that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace. This guidance applies only to England, with previous lockdown regulations continuing to be in place in Wales.
Many firms have told the Gazette they do not intend to ask lawyers to come in, despite the slight easing of restrictions announced this week, and will continue to operate on a remote model.
Slater and Gordon, one of the biggest legal employers, said its staff would continue to work from home, its chief people officer Alicia Alinia adding: ‘We have no need to ask anyone to take extra risk or put additional pressure on public transport or other public services.’
The Law Society of England and Wales today urged solicitors’ firms to exercise caution amid the different messages from the governments in England and Wales.
Society president Simon Davis said: ‘We remain very concerned about the impact of this period on firms, on solicitors and on the public’s access to justice. By virtue of their work, solicitors are naturally risk managers and will certainly appreciate that as lockdown eases we will all have to be cautious and adaptive. Amid the tragedy we have all learned important lessons from the past few weeks and we need to take these into the next phase.'
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.